New laws make vaccination reporting mandatory
With the COVID vaccine rollout only weeks away, newly passed legislation means GPs will soon have to report all administered vaccines to the AIR or face a potential fine of more than $6000.
From 1 March, all vaccine providers will be required to report influenza vaccinations to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), with all other National Immunisation Program vaccinations to be reported on from 1 July. Reporting of all COVID-19 vaccinations will also be mandatory once the rollout commences in Australia – ensuring top-level public health measures are covered.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the new legislation will help strengthen Australia’s public health position.
‘We welcome the changes to better enable close monitoring and a reliable dataset of vaccine administration – particularly the COVID-19 vaccine – and strengthen nationwide vaccine coverage,’ she said. ‘GPs have a central role as vaccine providers. They are well placed to support patients in ensuring their immunisations are up-to-date, as well as alleviate any hesitancy in receiving vaccines.’
The Australian Immunisation Register Amendment (Reporting) Bill 2020 was tabled late last year to amend reporting advice, which previously recommended that vaccine providers only have a discretionary duty to report any vaccinations they administer. The RACGP largely supported the Bill in its 2020 submission, but also raised some concerns – particularly regarding the proposed punitive measures related to increasing reporting rates.
According to the college, the potential for non-compliant providers to receive a $6660 penalty could have a negative impact on patient access to immunisations. Although broadly supportive of the changes, Dr Price is disappointed the punitive measures were not replaced with a more positive approach to compliance.
‘The college advocated strongly for members an amendment to this proposal, but it was not adopted,’ Dr Price said.
‘There needs to be greater appreciation of the practice and work environments to build professional trust between Government and the general practice sector.
‘We understand education and support are provided to those vaccine providers who don’t report in the first instance, and civil penalties will only be applied as a last resort, but we would have preferred some incentives to help increase compliance as well. ’In its initial submission, the RACGP highlighted that compliance measures should focus on identifying the reason for under-reporting and finding solutions to improve reporting levels through support strategies to vaccine providers.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the legislation’s passage through Parliament, saying it will reinforce Australia’s vaccination system and ensure all ‘life-saving’ vaccinations are recorded on the AIR. ‘[This] will mean health authorities can avoid unnecessary re-vaccination and let individuals and their vaccination providers know which vaccines a person has had and when they are overdue,’ Minister Hunt said.
‘The changes will mean more comprehensive reporting of vaccinations, which over time will help increase vaccination coverage rates and the effectiveness of Australia’s world-leading vaccination programs. ’Minister Hunt told Parliament last year that fines will only be imposed as a last resort and that education is the first option, a point that was reinforced during the Bill’s third reading.
‘It is conceivable that vaccination providers who have failed to report a single vaccination event and are otherwise compliant with legislation are likely to have experienced isolated issues. In such circumstances, education and support will be provided in the first instance,’ he said. ‘For those vaccination providers not reporting any vaccines to the AIR and who do not undertake behavioural change even after education and support is provided, more serious compliance action, such as a civil penalty, could be considered.’
In addition to opposing the potential sanctions, the RACGP submission made recommendations to ensure patient access to immunisations is not negatively affected, nor that the legislation would compromise privacy or place undue financial burdens on providers. It also underlined the support GPs need to meet the mandatory reporting requirements, given their central position in spearheading the administration of the new COVID-19 vaccine and allaying any concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Among the several recommendations was that the Government provide a full and detailed privacy disclosure statement and consent form, with adequate guidance for GPs to provide to their patients. Patients should also be able to opt out of reporting their personal information to the AIR, the RACGP recommended, and a second-line option should be available for general practices to report de-identified information where a patient does not provide their consent.
In response to this recommendation, the Government confirmed that vaccination will remain voluntary, and patient data will continue to have stringent privacy measures in place.
‘There are existing and strong provisions under the AIR Act that provide individuals with control over their personal information,’ Minister Hunt said.
Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015
No. 138, 2015
(1) An individual may, in the approved form, request that the individual not be given by (or on behalf of) the Commonwealth:
(a) any advice of a kind referred to in paragraph 10(1)(h); or
(b) any certification of a kind referred to in paragraph 10(1)(i); or
(c) any information of a kind referred to in paragraph 10(1)(j).
Note: The request could be made by a legal personal representative of an individual who is incapable of managing his or her health affairs (see subsection 10(2)).
(2) An individual may, in the approved form, request that personal information on the AI register relating to or identifying:
(a) the individual; or
(b) if the individual is a legal personal representative of another individual who is incapable of managing his or her health affairs—that other individual;
not be disclosed from the AI register for one or more purposes of the AI register.
(3) The Commonwealth must comply with a request under this section as soon as practicable.
AUSTRALIAN IMMUNISATION REGISTER ACT 2015 (NO. 138, 2015) - SECT 29
(1) The Minister may, in writing, approve a form for the purposes of a provision of this Act.
(2) A request required by a provision of this Act to be in the approved form must be given to the person specified in the form for that purpose.